Ravine Gardens State ParkFebruary 2023
By Visit Florida
Ravine Gardens State Park is a hidden gem tucked away in Palatka, just off the St. Johns River. The lush park has 60 acres accessible for exploring, including two ravines up to 120 feet deep with steep banks at 45-degree angles.
The ravines were formed over thousands of years through erosion by natural springs located in the park. The underground water bubbling up cuts into the bank and carries the sand and soil downstream to the St. Johns River. Over thousands of years, the ravines have widened and deepened.
A Garden Park
Ravine Gardens originally opened as a botanical tourist attraction in 1934. When the park was first built, more than 100,000 species of plants were brought in. Most of them still exist today, thanks to the work of the Florida State Parks, which took over care of the location in the 1970s.
Rangers work diligently to maintain as many of the plant species as possible, but the most famous are the azaleas. There are currently 18 species of azaleas growing in the park, which bloom from January to March, depending on the weather.
There are plenty of picnic sites with grills for cooking out, a kids’ playground and a beautiful historic amphitheater to explore. The amphitheater’s beautiful natural stage once hosted the Miss Florida Azalea Pageant, which Neva Langley participated in before going on to become Miss America in 1953.
3 Great Hikes
Another unique aspect of the park is its suspension bridges, which span the ravines at a height of 30 to 50 feet. You can expect a minimal amount of wobble and swing when crossing.
There’s a 1.8-mile paved loop around the rim of the park that is great for strolling and even cycling. Check with the park to see if current conditions will allow automobiles on the paved loop.
There are also two moderate trails that take you down into the ravines via narrow pathways with old roots and steep steps. Factor in the elevation change and the trails can be considered challenging for some.
Azalea Season, Festival Time
While the park boasts something in bloom every month of the year, those famous azalea blossoms are typically seen in late February through early March.
The first weekend of March is when the area celebrates the blooms with an annual Azalea Festival. Activities at Ravine Gardens include ranger-led wagon rides through the park, music and food.
Downtown Palatka is also abloom during the two day outdoor festival, which includes entertainment on multiple stages, five blocks of vendors, a parade, an antique car show, a beauty pageant and, of course, azaleas.
There are plenty of events for the kids to enjoy with activities such as face painting, games and arts and crafts. Pets are encouraged at the Azalea Festival and blossoming costumes for your furry friends are a traditional part of the celebration.